Accreditation in Public Relations

The Award May Have Felt Good, But It Was Really About Something Bigger

Last month I had an opportunity to take a walk down memory lane regarding the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and its many connections with PRSA.  The occasion was the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC), where Don Stacks, Ph.D., and I received service awards.

The awards were highly meaningful to Don and myself.  But I couldn’t help thinking that, coming from AEJMC and its sister organization, the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (ASJMC), the awards said something about growing recognition for the professionalism of public relations.

So how did we get there?  The work of PRSA and IPR had a lot to do with it.

IPR came into being in 1956 as the Foundation for Public Relations Research and Education, under the auspices of PRSA.  The early leaders were typically top people who had served in other PRSA leadership positions.  For example, among the Board members in the early decades were Howard Chase, Pendleton Dudley, John Hill, Betsy Plank and Harold Burson (with apologies to so many others who could have been named).

The original charter said that we would conduct research, offer grants and awards to encourage research, and widely share the results.  That we have done, as any visitor to IPR’s free website (or subscriber to our research letter) knows.

The foundation started Public Relations Review as the first peer-reviewed journal in our field.  We published the first book on public relations law, an early book on technology and public relations, and “A Design for Public Relations Education,” the first curricular guidelines from the Commission on Public Relations Education, which PRSA continues to support.

In 1989, we became an independent foundation and adopted a new name.  But working with PRSA and many other associations, universities, agencies, corporations and research providers, we continued to create new science beneath the art of public relationsTMwhile aggregating and interpreting other knowledge that professionals should have at the ready.

For example, the IPR Measurement Commission serves as a think tank on measurement and evaluation.  The IPR Commission on Organizational Communication has created a comprehensive online source for employee communications research.  Another team has created the Social Science of Social Media Research Center to summarize important studies in this area.  IPR and PRSA are among six organizations that have established the Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards.  A particularly interesting new effort is the Social Brain and Behavioral Communications research program to understand how cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics and social psychology can inform public relations practice.

This organization started very early in the history of this profession.  Indeed, it was a mere nine years after PRSA itself was chartered.  So the question is, what did the founders see that others around them did not?

I think it was that no occupation attains the status of a profession without a substantial body of research-based knowledge. This is as true of public relations as it is of medicine, law, accounting or teaching. In each case, there is science underlying the art, and it is the working knowledge of that science combined with creativity that marks the best professionals.

Frank Ovaitt, APR, is president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, an independent research and education foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations. In 2011, he received PRSA’s David Ferguson Award for outstanding contributions to public relations education by a practitioner. You can follow Frank on Twitter @FrankIPR

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